Music to Our Ears

By: Herb Hiller

From orchestra to opera, Florida entertainment includes year 'round music performances and festivals spotlighting local and international luminaries.

The hills may be alive with music, but more than ever, so is flat Florida. It helps that musicians, same as music-lovers, love spending time here.

Florida Rings with Classical Music

Only in the mid-1900s did classical music fully find its way to Florida. In 1940, an opera society formed in Miami, followed post-World War II by the Palm Beach Opera and Tampa Bay's Florida Orchestra. Touring musicians began filling winter dates among them.

No surprise that classical music first struck a popular chord in Florida's wealthy population centers. An ear for music goes well with an eye for art and a palate for gourmet foods. "Patron of the arts" isn't just a fancy phrase for music lovers. All large performing companies need financial support beyond the box office and none more so than symphony orchestras, opera and ballet companies. Pavarotti may have overcome music's elite image but music itself still sidles up to wealth.

Miami's Sophisticated Music Scene

All of this established Miami with its endless sophistications (and its tourism wealth) as Florida's premier musical hub. Founded by Carnival Cruise Line founder Ted Arison and his wife Lyn, one of Miami's chief cultural groups is the leading orchestral academy in America, the New World Symphony. Led by charismatic San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, the New World Symphony prepares musicians typically in their early 20's for leading orchestras around the world. Performances at the New World Center in Miami Beach range from symphonic works with their high-end tickets to chamber music programs that often feature modernist compositions and modest prices. More than one-third of the organization's events are free.

Southeast Florida is also home to the Miami International Piano Festival, which showcases pianists from around the world at halls in Miami and Fort Lauderdale

In Tune with Gulf Coast Florida

Like southeast Florida, the state's lower west coast has added new esteem in the musical arts to its reputation for sumptuous beach resorts. For almost 25 years, the Philharmonic Center of the Arts has been at the heart of Southwest Florida's cultural life. Now under the leadership of CEO and president Kathleen van Bergen, the Phil serves more than 350,000 patrons each year through 400 concerts, exhibitions and educational opportunities. The Phil provides the best in visual and performing arts to the Naples community with its Naples Museum of Art and Naples Philharmonic Orchestra and often includes performances from the Miami City Ballet and stars such as Sheryl Crow, Itzhak Perlman and Branford Marsalis.

Just north, the Southwest Florida Symphony in Fort Myers performs from November through May around Lee County. The Sarasota Opera, in its less-than-1,200-seat restored performance hall (located in one of the state's premier shopping districts) stages one fall and four winter operas in repertory each season to critical acclaim.

Tampa Bay's Florida Orchestra has performed the entire Beethoven symphony cycle and works by Bartok, Britten, Honegger and Mahler, as well as a wide variety of other concerts. Spurring high ticket demand among visitors as well as locals, TFO's performance venues in St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa are all close to popular beach resorts and their cities' nighttime entertainment districts and restaurant rows.

Music for the Masses

All around the state, musical organizations recognize the need to build audiences. In mid-state Lakeland's fast-forward arts community, the Imperial Symphony Orchestra during Tea & Symphony programs prepares listeners for music scheduled each following week. 

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra at Jacoby Symphony Hall in Jacksonville's resurgent downtown starts younger. With support received from the Weaver Family Foundation, classical music programs reach more than 80,000 children a year.

Universities year 'round nurture music and music lovers. Florida State University in Tallahassee, the state capital, has a music faculty of more than 90 (including Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taafe Zwilich) that performs public programs. The University of Miami sponsors Festival Miami each spring in Miami that features the faculty-led Bergonzi String Quartet, its civic chorale, symphonic band, chamber symphony and symphony orchestra.

Central Florida Community College hosts the Ocala Symphony Orchestra at its Ocala campus in the midst of Florida horse country. The University of Florida brings international groups to arts-aware Gainesville, including the Jupiter String Quartet, Borealis String Quartet and BBC Concert Orchestra; all performances are open to the public, the same as student and faculty programs.

Small Towns, Big Sounds

Classical music isn't just a big city thing, and modern works now get heard from one end of the state to the other. Near Florida's sugar-sand beaches, the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra performs works by some of the greatest names in music.

Melbourne, Cocoa Beach and resort towns up and down the Space Coast host performances of the Community Band of Brevard and the 40-member Space Coast Flute Orchestra. Mount Dora's annual Music Festival set in central Florida's famed antiquing hub includes past performances by Gary Lewis and the Playboys and the Florida Lakes Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the late Guy St. Clair.

Many performances are affordable. In addition to chamber programs of the New World Symphony, in any season you might hear a program by the Florida Atlantic University Wind Ensemble or Symphony Orchestra throughout the year, usually for free. Listeners at Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales can picnic under the trees (and nights, lie under the stars) while listening to carillon concerts for only the site's $12 entry fee. Mount Dora's classical programs are generally affordable, and many performances during the Amelia Island Chamber Music Festival are altogether free.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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